Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The airlock used to be palatial. Now the four-metre walls are coated with sickly golden crud: the exudations of a million desperados.
The bouncer is vaguely human. He waves at us: “Leave your weapons here.”
Pointing to an upturned crate next to the inner door, I grin at Ella: “Stay.”
The bouncer looks puzzled. Ella shrugs and thumps her backside down on it.
I smile at him: “Ando Morre.”
He presses the ‘open door’ panel: “Whatever.”
Inside is a typical portside speakeasy. I look about. Weather forecast: stormy with outbreaks of violence.
“Ando, you woeful excuse of a man. Come to do me a solid, brother?”
Definitely come to do you something, chum.
“Parchment Dan. Just the being I didn’t want to meet.”
Yet.
His skin rustles as his face splits nearly in half, letting out a belly laugh. His crystalline teeth glow yellow.
It’s not a pretty sight: “I see you’ve had your head replaced. Is gaudy and tasteless in this season?”
“Ando, if I wasn’t in a good mood, I’d have you diced.” He waves toward a pair of grey-suited guards: cybereyes burning red above lime green ties over pink shirts.
I nod to them: “Matching outfits. Lovely.”
They glower.
“Now you’re being rude. I think I’ll settle for what you net as bodyparts. Boys? Organ salvage this specimen.”
Already? I was hoping for a drink before things turned ugly.
A set of knuckleblades open my armour and my side. Damn, these guards are fast.
“Told you.” She sounds cheerful over our link.
I duck a double cut that crops my hair way too close to my scalp.
“Ella!”
The airlock door glows white, then disappears. A wave of blistering heat blasts across the room – slower than she who caused it.
The cyborg on my left is limbless before he hits the floor. The cyborg on my right brings a gun up, only to lose it along with that side of his torso. I can’t even work out how she did that.
“Ando, what the- Glark! Umodruuuuuuuuuu…”
Dan’s shiny head rolls past, teeth shattered.
The gunfire is incredible. Automatic weapons, both projectile and energy, blasting away.
Silence.
Peering from under my crossed arms, I see why it all missed. Ella was the only one shooting. Having dealt with the threats before they could respond, she spent the rest of the time cutting the kanji for her designation into the wall behind the stage: ‘3774’. The calligraphy is beautiful. Clean strokes, parallel curves.
“That’s outstanding.”
She drops the smoking guns and turns to me with hands clasped behind her: “You mean that?”
“I do. The way you shadowed the bullet holes with consistent char patterns is art.”
My adopted daughter bursts into tears. Smiling and crying, she runs into my arms.
“Love you, slowdad.”
I tap her on the head: “I’m only slow compared to you. I could have taken those cyborgs.”
She looks up at me: “You’re bleeding all over the floor.”
The bad ones only hurt when you notice. I have to sit down. Ella grabs a medibot from behind the counter and sets it on me.
I grin: “Maybe only one of those cyborgs.”
“Next time, I’ll do the guards and you take the boss. No more going in first so you can be cocky.”
There’s real concern in her eyes. My girl, the killing machine, has become so human. They said it couldn’t happen. Which means I can’t let her down. After all, I only get to show off because she’s so dangerous.
“Okay.”
She hugs me until we hear my ribs creak.

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